The massacre in Las Vegas is both sadly familiar and terrifyingly novel. Because of the recent series of violent attacks on innocent people gathered in public places, high body counts are no longer unheard-of, although the 59 dead after the Las Vegas tragedy sets a depressing new record. These news stories have become so grimly commonplace as to dull our collective sensitivity to their shock.

However, the modus operandi of the latest attack, apparently by a “lone wolf” – carefully planned and involving a stockpile of nearly two dozen guns gathered in a hotel room – prompts new soul-searching about how public events are secured, not to mention a re-evaluation of security in the hospitality sector.

Public events at risk from attack

The sniper attack from a 32nd-floor room at Mandalay Bay, overlooking 22,000 people attending a country music festival, has been compared to “shooting fish in a barrel.” When the bullets rained down, there was nowhere to hide. The attack came from outside the “perimeter” of the event, so any additional screening of attendees would not have prevented it. Such attacks are not unheard of, but to what extent might it have been foreseen in this instance?

It’s a new concern to add to the mounting list of possible risks at public events, such as a car in the crowd or a bomb in a backpack. Add to the list a firearm assault from above. If security is supposed to protect against that which is reasonable and foreseeable, this tragedy clearly expands the list.

Preventative measures for sniper attacks

Certainly, there are measures that can prevent sniper attacks, such as police officer sharpshooters positioned on nearby rooftops scanning the windows of nearby buildings for potential threats. Such measures are routinely employed for high-security events such as a Presidential visit, but not generally for a country music concert.

Should organisers of public events reevaluate the level of risk, now that the dangers have been demonstrated in a dramatic and deadly fashion? Broadly speaking, nearby buildings with lines-of-sight to public areas are a new security risk to be considered. Might public events need to be located somewhere else? What about parades down city streets, or Times Square at New Year’s Eve?

New York’s Police Commissioner James O’Neill may have said it best: “We do understand that no city or town in this country is completely immune.”

Security in hospitality sector

The implication of the Las Vegas massacre for the hospitality industry is an additional issue. Hotels and resorts such as Mandalay Bay have not generally embraced technologies like the explosives scanners or X-ray machines used at airport terminals, at least not in the United States. Most hospitality companies keep their focus on things like limiting theft, controlling unruly guests, or keeping strangers from roaming the halls. In contrast, hotels in the Middle East and Asia, where there has historically been more chance of violence, have a higher level of security.

Las Vegas gaming and hospitality industries embrace video in a big way
Hotels and resorts such as Mandalay Bay have not generally embraced technologies like the explosives scanners or X-ray machines used at airport terminals

Even in Las Vegas, where the gaming and hospitality industries embrace video in a big way, the emphasis is not on watching guests who may be stockpiling firearms.

What might the impact of greater security be on guests and, by extension, a hotel’s business? In a competitive market that emphasises the guest experience, any negativity suggested by additional security measures would likely be evaluated carefully lest it impact the bottom line. Anything perceived as invasive of a guest’s privacy would be frowned upon. Our appetite and/or tolerance for tighter security in the wake of a tragedy will inevitably dissipate over time. In short, the hospitality industry is likely to continue to be a “soft target” for years to come.

New security training and technologies

Might a higher level of training among hotel staff to promote awareness of suspicious behavior make a difference? It’s a low-profile, comparatively low-cost possibility many hospitality professionals will be looking at in the days to come.

There are less obtrusive technologies on the market that could help. For example, Steve Wynn, CEO of Wynn Resorts, has said they have installed “non-visible” metal detectors at every entrance.

One manufacturer of such equipment is PatriotOne Technologies, which offers a “cognitive microwave radar technology” embedded in a wall or stand-alone unit at a controlled access point. The company made news at last week’s ASIS show by announcing integration of its system with March Networks’ video recording solution.

Concerns for security trade shows

The latest tragedy hits especially close to home for those in the security industry who travel to Las Vegas every year for the ISC West show. Mandalay Bay is at the other end of the strip from much of the ISC West activity, but the attack still seems to hit directly in our neighbourhood.

Next year, the security market will be going to Vegas at least twice, for ISC West in the spring and again for the ASIS 2018 show in the fall. Somewhere in the midst of those events may be a solution that could help prevent such tragedies. We can all hope so.

Meanwhile, our thoughts are with the victims of the Las Vegas massacre, their families and friends.